Our Souls at Night by American novelist Kent Haruf managed to sooth my soul and stimulate my imagination. The beautiful poetic prose in this slim book and the theme of love of different kinds in old age work together to create magic.
The novel begins when seventy-year-old widow, Addie Moore visits her equally elderly neighbour, Louis Waters. Without warning, she asks him to spend the night with her. Although they lived a few doors apart for many years, they are acquaintances rather than friends.
The boldness of her plan surprises Louis, even though she reassures him that she is looking for companionship rather than sex.
I’m talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?.
I experienced a small frisson of surprise at Addie’s bold suggestion, even though my husband and I eloped when we were in our seventies. The writing soon enchanted me.
Louisa asks for time to think about her suggestion, and when he eventually goes to her house carrying his pyjamas and toothbrush in a brown paper bag they are as hesitant as teenagers on a first date. They know very little about each other. For example, she offers him wine, but he prefers beer. She says she will buy beer, ‘if there is a next time’.
In spite of their initial nervousness, they get on well together as they begin to relax in each other’s company. After a few nights, he leaves his pyjamas and toothbrush at her house when he goes home in the morning.
Side-by-side in her bed in the dark, they talk about their now deceased partners. They share stories about their faded childhood hopes and dreams, their successes and failures. They discuss their children.
Of course, life and family, as they always do, present a series of challenges for Addie and Louis to deal with, and the author writes about them with humour and gentleness.
The novel is set in an imaginary small town in Colorado (USA). Soon tongues wag about the couple. So long after the sexual revolution, it seems that relationships between older people are judged differently from those between others.
Kent Haruf’s writing is exquisite, poetic and full of gentle humour. I am sad that Our Souls at Night, one of my all-time favourite books, was published after his death.
I highly recommend this book as well as Kent Haruf’s back-list of other wonderful novels.